Best and worst MLB player starts to season for every NL team


The MLB season is almost a month in the books and teams have played between 24 and 28 games, which is a small sample in a 162-game campaign. But even about 15 percent of the season is enough to begin to take stock. Here, we’ll look at the best and worst individual performers for each National League team, along with an “under-the-radar” player — at least to opposing clubs’ fans. (If you missed it, check out our corresponding article on the American League.)


NL EAST

Atlanta Braves

Best: Austin Riley, 3B — Riley has started this season the same way he left off last year — as the Braves’ most valuable player. He’s reached base at a .360 clip, leads the team in home runs (seven) and RBIs (14), and has played stellar defense at third base.

Under the radar: Travis d’Arnaud, C — D’Arnaud is off to a solid start, batting .300 with 12 RBIs, which ranks third on the team. He continues to call great games behind the plate.

Worst: Adam Duvall, CF — Duvall is hitting .191 with only one home run. The homers will come (he hit 38 last season), but I don’t have high expectations for his batting average and on-base percentage (.228 average, .281 OBP in 2021). He will be a free agent after this season.

Miami Marlins

Best: Pablo López, RHP — López ranks third in the majors in ERA. His changeup has become one of the best in the sport; opposing batters are hitting .171 (7-for-41) against it with just two extra-base hits.

Under the radar: Anthony Bass, RHP — Bass has been terrific out of the bullpen with a 1.38 ERA in 13 appearances. He’s struck out 14, walked three and allowed only seven hits in 13 appearances.

Worst: Avisaíl García, RF — García signed a four-year, $53 million contract in the offseason and so far he’s been a bust. He’s batting .171 with one home run, a minus-0.1 WAR (Baseball-Reference) and a 34 OPS+.

New York Mets

Best: Max Scherzer, RHP — Scherzer is pitching like the ace he is for the Mets, going 4-0 with a 2.61 ERA in five starts. The three-time Cy Young Award winner has 42 strikeouts in 31 innings and a 0.806 WHIP. His leadership by example, competitiveness and focus are rubbing off on his teammates. He’s been the biggest difference-maker for the Mets, who have jumped out to an early 5 1/2-game lead in the NL East.

Under the radar: Tylor Megill, RHP — Losing Jacob deGrom to the injured list could have been devastating for the Mets, but it hasn’t been because Megill has stepped up and performed at the highest level of his career. His velocity, command and control are all significantly improved. He’s 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA in six starts (33 1/3 innings), and it looks sustainable.

Worst: James McCann, C — The Mets signed McCann to a four-year, $40.6 million deal before the 2021 season and so far the results have been somewhat disappointing. He hit .232 last year with 10 home runs and a .294 on-base percentage in 121 games. This season, he’s batting .196 with one home run and a .276 OPB. However, he has played well defensively.

Philadelphia Phillies

Best: Nick Castellanos, DH/RF — The Phillies swooped in and signed Castellanos to a five-year, $100 million contract this spring and based on the early returns, it was money well spent. Castellanos is batting .308 with a 149 OPS+, four home runs and 15 RBIs. He’s provided solid protection in the middle of the lineup.

Under the radar: Corey Knebel, RHP — On a one-year, $10 million deal, Knebel was one of the undervalued signings of the offseason and provided the Phillies with a much-needed closer. Through 10 appearances, Knebel had posted a 0.87 ERA and four saves, but Thursday’s ninth-inning meltdown against the Mets ballooned his ERA to 3.27.

Worst: Bryson Stott, INF — The Phillies were hoping Stott would be a Rookie of the Year candidate after a strong spring training, but he wasn’t able to maintain that success in a small sample to start the season. He hit .133/.161/.167 in 37 plate appearances before being sent to Triple A. Stott, the Phillies’ first-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, will be back.

Washington Nationals

Best: Josh Bell, 1B — I can’t believe Juan Soto isn’t in this spot, but teams just aren’t pitching to him (he leads the majors with 23 walks), and Bell has taken advantage of that by flat-out raking. Bell is hitting .356/.453/.533 with seven doubles, three home runs and 19 RBIs. He’s eligible for free agency after this season and could end up being one of the most impactful bats moved at the trade deadline.

Under the radar: Yadiel Hernandez, LF — Hernandez has been one of the most underrated players in the majors this season. He’s slashed .373/.394/.522 with seven doubles and 14 RBIs, and he’s doing it at age 34. Who would have thought? Not me.

Worst: Patrick Corbin, LHP — Corbin has arguably the worst contract in baseball. He’s making $23.4 million this year and is due $24.4 million next year and $35.4 million in 2024. His ERA is trending in the wrong direction: It was 4.66 in 2020 and 5.82 in 2021. It’s 7.16 this season after six starts (27 2/3 innings).

NL CENTRAL

Chicago Cubs

Best: Seiya Suzuki, RF — Congratulations Seiya, I’m calling the NL Rookie of the Year Award early. You win. Suzuki is off to a strong start to his MLB career, with a .365 on-base percentage, six doubles, four home runs and 15 RBIs in 80 at-bats. His chase rate ranks in the 95th percentile, his sprint speed in the 92 percentile and his average exit velocity in the 75th percentile. His high energy and enthusiasm are contagious. This was a great signing by the Cubs front office.

Under the radar: David Robertson, RHP — Robertson is the front-runner for NL Comeback Player of the Year after a terrific start. He’s made 10 appearances out of the bullpen, allowing no runs and one hit with 16 strikeouts in 11 innings. The veteran righty will be a nice trade chip for the Cubs at the deadline if he can keep this up.

Worst: Nick Madrigal, 2B — Madrigal, the first-round pick of the White Sox in the 2018 draft, was sent to the Cubs in the Craig Kimbrel trade last year after he underwent season-ending hamstring surgery. He’s off to a slow start on the North Side of Chicago, hitting .235 with a .288 on-base percentage, but I think he’ll get on track soon. Madrigal should be a .300 hitter who plays above-average defense at second base.

Cincinnati Reds

Best: None — The Reds are 3-22, their worst start in franchise history (and, as Jayson Stark outlines, one of the worst starts of all time). They are last in the NL in runs scored and last in the majors in OPS (.585) and team ERA (6.86). I don’t think any of their players are worthy picks for this category right now.

Under the radar: Jeff Hoffman, RHP — Hoffman has been brilliant out of the bullpen, mostly in a setup role. He’s allowed only three earned runs in 14 1/3 innings (nine appearances).

Worst: Joey Votto, 1B — The future Hall of Famer has become a social media darling but on the field he’s looked like a 38-year-old whose career might be coming to an end. Votto slashed .122/.278/.135 with one extra-base hit in 74 at-bats before landing on the COVID-19 injured list. He made a remarkable comeback last year and is one of the best hitters and personalities of his era. Many across baseball will be rooting for him to turn things around.

Milwaukee Brewers

Best: Corbin Burnes, RHP, and Josh Hader, LHP — The bookends of the Brewers’ pitching staff are dominating just like they did last year. Burnes, the 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner, has posted a 1.93 ERA in five starts this season with 43 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings. Hader, the best closer in baseball, is 10-for-10 in save opportunities and has yet to allow a run. He’s struck out 15 in 9 1/3 innings and carries a ridiculous 0.643 WHIP.

Under the radar: Eric Lauer, LHP — Lauer has been a godsend to the back of the Brewers rotation with a 2-0 record and 1.93 ERA in four starts and 34 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings. He has increased his velocity by 2 mph and overhauled his pitch sequencing for the better.

Worst: Lorenzo Cain, CF — It looks like age and decline have finally caught up with Cain, 36. He’s batting .196 with only two extra-base hits.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Best: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B — The Pirates signed Hayes to an eight-year, $70 million extension and his fast start is making that club-friendly contract look even better. He has posted a .404 on-base percentage, a 134 OPS+ and a 1.2 WAR. Defensively, he’s a human highlight film and has to be considered along with Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado as one of the top three third basemen.

Under the radar: Daniel Vogelbach, DH — Nobody is happier about the universal designated hitter than Vogelbach. He has taken advantage of the rule change, slashing .292/.350/.514 with four home runs and 11 RBIs in 72 at-bats. I expect his batting average to plummet but the home run rate to remain solid.

Worst: Zach Thompson, RHP — After a successful 2021 season with the Marlins (3.24 ERA in 75 innings), Thompson was sent to the Pirates in the Jacob Stallings trade. However, it hasn’t clicked yet with Pittsburgh, as he’s posted a 9.39 ERA in 15 1/3 innings, allowing 24 hits and 10 walks.

St. Louis Cardinals

Best: Nolan Arenado, 3B — Arenado has finished in the top eight in NL MVP voting five times, and this might be the year he actually wins the award. He’s batting .348/.426/.674 with seven home runs, a 1.100 OPS and a league-leading 23 RBIs. He also leads the NL in OPS+ (232) and is playing excellent defense per usual.

Under the radar: Tommy Edman, 2B — Edman won a Gold Glove at second base in 2021 and is repeating that stellar defense this year. He’s also hitting .325 with three home runs, six stolen bases, 14 RBIs and a 168 OPS+.

Worst: Paul DeJong, SS — The Cardinals need to upgrade at shortstop. Don’t be surprised if they make a run at Xander Bogaerts if Boston falls out of contention by July and can’t re-sign him. DeJong just can’t get it done at the plate. He’s hitting .119 with one home run in 67 at-bats. Last season he hit .197. I do expect DeJong to hit for more power this year (last year he had 19 homers), but this slow start could finally push the Cardinals to make a move to upgrade the position.

NL WEST

Arizona Diamondbacks

Best: Zac Gallen, RHP — Gallen is healthy and returning to his form of 2019-20, when his ERA was under 3.00 both seasons. This year, Gallen is 1-0 with a 1.27 ERA in four starts. He’s struck out 19, walked four and allowed 11 hits in 21 1/3 innings. Gallen’s pinpoint control reminds me some of Greg Maddux. Opponents are hitting .130 against his four-seamer and .111 against his curveball.

Under the radar: Merrill Kelly, RHP — The Diamondbacks signed Kelly to a two-year, $18 million extension this spring with a team option for 2025. Based on how he’s pitched to start the season, that contract could be a bargain for the club. Kelly is 2-1 with a 1.27 ERA after five starts (28 1/3 innings).

Worst: Ketel Marte, 2B — I think the five-year, $76 million extension to Marte will ultimately be regarded as a smart signing for the Diamondbacks. However, Marte he is not off to a good start, batting .174 with one home run and one stolen base. He’ll get on track. I wouldn’t be surprised if he still makes the NL All-Star team.

Colorado Rockies

Best: C.J. Cron, 1B — Cron has found a home at Coors Field and the Rockies deserve credit for signing him to a two-year, $14.5 million deal this past offseason. He’s hitting .313/.356/.677 with a league-leading nine home runs and 23 RBIs. How much does Cron love Coors? He’s hitting .368 at home versus .200 on the road, and seven of his nine homers came in Colorado.

Under the radar: Randal Grichuk, OF — The Rockies won the trade this spring when they acquired Grichuk and cash from the Blue Jays for Raimel Tapia. Grichuk is batting .325 with 12 runs scored, five homers and 16 RBIs in 77 at-bats.

Worst: Brendan Rodgers, 2B — Rodgers, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 draft, hasn’t lived up to expectations. This season, he’s hitting .149 with one home run and no stolen bases.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Best: Walker Buehler, RHP — Buehler was my NL Cy Young Award pick before the season, and he’ll certainly be in that conversation. He’s 3-1 with a 2.12 ERA, 26 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings, and a 1.112 WHIP. Last week he threw the first complete game shutout of his career.

Under the radar: Tony Gonsolin, RHP — Gonsolin has been spectacular and is now embedded as the Dodgers’ fourth starter. Through five starts, he owns a 1.64 ERA but a 3.41 FIP. He’s allowed only 15 hits in 22 innings.

Worst: Max Muncy, INF/DH — Last year, Muncy hit 36 homers, drove in 94 runs and reached base at a .368 clip. He is not fully recovered after tearing ligaments in his left elbow on the final day of the regular season, and it shows in his performance. Muncy is hitting .151/.319/.315 with three home runs and 11 RBIs. Freddie Freeman has taken over first base full-time and Muncy has been relegated to DH, second base or third, so perhaps moving to different positions has also affected his offense.

San Diego Padres

Best: Manny Machado, 3B — Give Machado credit: After signing a $300 million contract with the Padres in 2019, he’s kept himself in great shape, outworked everyone, basically played every day and performed at a high level. Machado is an early NL MVP candidate this season as he’s slashing .374/.447/.657 and leading the league in runs scored (25) and hits (35). He’s second in the majors in OPS (1.104), among the leaders in home runs (seven) and to top it off, has stolen five bases in as many attempts.

Under the radar: Eric Hosmer, 1B — The Padres did everything they could to trade Hosmer this offseason, and now they’re glad they didn’t. Manager Bob Melvin raves about Hosmer’s at-bats and professionalism, not to mention his plus defense at first base. He’s hitting .376/.459/.564 with a 212 OPS+, three home runs and 17 RBIs in 85 at-bats.

Worst: Tim Hill, LHP — Hill was magnificent last year, posting a 3.62 ERA in 78 relief appearances and holding left-handed hitters to a .210 batting average. However, this season, he can’t get anyone out. He’s allowed seven earned runs and 11 hits in 5 2/3 innings (nine appearances).

San Francisco Giants

Best: Carlos Rodón, LHP — Rodón was one of the best value signings of the offseason. A lot of teams shied away from him because of his injury history. But the Giants were convinced his left shoulder was healthy, and he’s rewarded them in the early going for the vote of confidence. Rodón is 3-1 with a 1.55 ERA and 0.828 WHIP in five starts. He’s struck out 41 in 29 innings. If he keeps this up, he’ll opt out of his contract after the season and be one of the most sought-after starting pitchers in free agency.

Under the radar: Joc Pederson, LF — Every time we look up it seems Pederson is on the field celebrating a world championship; he did it with the Dodgers in 2020 and with the Braves last year. The Giants are his fourth team in three years and he’s succeeding again as a platoon player. Pederson is hitting .295 with six home runs and 10 RBIs in 65 plate appearances, and San Francisco fans are already embracing him.

Worst: Darin Ruf, DH/LF/1B — The Giants didn’t feel a need to sign or trade for a free agent to fill the new DH spot. They felt Ruf could be part of a platoon-type approach to the DH, especially against left-handed pitching. Last year, he recorded a .385 on-base percentage, 16 home runs and 43 RBIs in 117 games (312 plate appearances). But this year he’s off to a slow start, slashing just .181/.287/.202 with no home runs in 94 at-bats.

(Photo of Nolan Arenado: Dylan Buell / Getty Images)





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